Bhagat Singh as a Surefooted Revolutionary and His Verdure: a Foster- son of Colonialism
Sheena Krishnan Ulamparambath
What would be better to call Bhagat Singh a poet, historian, writer, philosopher, artist, poet, communist, socialist, Marxist or at the most a family man? A close study of Singh’s character and nature along with his letters throws light on his various shades. Yet, still, always confusion arises. What would be better to call him? Politician, states man, nationalist, national builder, patriot, freedom fighter, terrorist, revolutionary, administrator; list may be long. However, question here is which role was dominant in his life? Hence, in this paper an attempt is made to trace him as a man of multiple personalities. Another attempt is made to trace the favorable factors that nourished his growth as freedom fighter. When delving through the letters written by him to different personalities, it is learnt that in the midst of various political issues and nationalist movements, he was struggling to take care of his family. It is learnt that he had a special affection towards Harnam Kaur, the wife of his exiled uncle Ajit Singh. This attempt enables us to grapple with the existing shroud of mystery and confusion regarding the role of Singh as a family man. Therefore, the basic thrust is to explore his approach towards the nation and the British, through which it is possible to study how, a patriot, struggled between his family and the nation. The present study entails a detailed exploration of the Singh’s constructive and political activities in the Punjab. To understand him as a historian and a writer, an attempt is being made to separate fact from the mass of legend, which is interwoven with the slender matrix of history. It is hoped that the present exercise would fill the gaps in our knowledge of Singh’s multiple personalities under study. Thus, a humble attempt is made to move away from the conventional reconstructions of the past towards a more realistic and complex representation. It is hoped that the present study would help the readers to assume that how different he was from others.
“My life has already been committed to a noble case – the case of the freedom of India. For that, reason comforts and worldly desires have no attraction in my life. You must be remembering that…. when I was quite young, Bapuji (grandfather) had declared that I was being pledged for the service of the country. I am, therefore, honouring the pledge of that time. I hope you will excuse me.
A letter written by Bhagat Singh to his father, when his father had arranged his marriage, is quoted above. Bhagat Singh objected to the arrangement and left his home by leaving this letter for his father, which clearly validates his ardent patriotism and deep love for the nation. Bhagat Singh was gripped by patriotic fervour. He was also very sensitive to the plight of the two women in the house who lived without their husbands, the dead Swarn Singh’s widow, and the exiled Ajit Singh’s wife, and, hence, determined not to let same happen to any girl, who, might marry him. Hence, in this paper, an attempt is made to explore various causes that nourished Bhagat Singh’s growth as a patriot. Among various factors, his family background stands at the top. Bhagat Singh’s ancestors were actually the adventurous migrants, who, originally came from the village of Khatkar Kalan in the Jullundur district 27 K.M. from Phagwara and it was from there, they migrated to and settled in the village of Banga in the Lyllapur District, now in West Pakistan. He came from a patriotic Jat Sikh family, some of whom had participated in movements supporting the independence of India and others, who, had served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh‘s army. His grandfather, Arjun Singh was not only a scholar and doctor but also an ardent follower of Swami Dayananda Saraswati‘s Arya Samaj. Being a nationalist, religious reformer and social worker, he actively participated in the social and religious movements in the nineteenth century, which would carry a heavy influence on Singh. Unlike many Sikhs, Bhagat Singh did not attend Khalsa High School in Lahore, because his grandfather did not approve of the school officials’ loyalty to the British authorities. Instead, his father enrolled him in Dayanand Anglo Vedic High School, an Arya Samajist school. In 1893, Arjun Singh became one of the delegates to the Congress Session held at Lahore. He was man of conviction, who always opposed dogmatism and rigid traditionalism. His father, Kishan Singh too was a social worker, who had organized extensive relief works in different parts of the country. Bhagat Singh’s father as well as father’s brothers, Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh founded a party namely Bharat Mata Society in the year 1906. Later they became the members of the Ghadar Party, led by Kartar Singh Sarabha Grewal and Har Dayal. Kishan Singh joined Arya Samaj as well as the Indian National Congress and consequently; he had faced 42 political trials, remained in jail for two years and was an internee for another too. Ajit Singh with the blessings of Lala Lajpat Rai, launched extremist movement in the Punjab. The government reports regarding the activities of Ajit Singh reads, “Ajit Singh during the last two months has held a constant series of meetings and has openly advocated sedition. He clearly ought to be stopped at once.” Report continues, “Agitator Ajit Singh and others have urged the people to rise, attack the English and be free.” His seditious speeches led to the outbreak of violent riots at Lahore and Rawalpindi in 1907, which the then Lieutenant Governor described “as exceedingly serious and exceedingly dangerous and as urgently demanding a remedy.” Lala Lajpat Rai also was amazed to see the overwhelmed agitatating attitude of the people that was created due to the frequent political meetings called by Ajit Singh in which, he urged the people to resist the government actively. On the Radio, Ajit Singh usually began with the famous couplet of Bahadur Shah, the Mughal Emperor:
Gazion mein boo rahgi jab talak Imman ki.
Tabto London Tak Chelegi teg Hindustani ki.
Maja Ayega jab hamara raj dekhenge
Ke apni hi zamin horgi apna asaman hoga
Shahidon ki chitaon per language her baras Meley
Wattan par marane walon ka yahi
Baqi nishan hoga.
The translation of the above lines is given:
So long as our soldiers of freedom
Have faith and confidence in themselves
The sword of Hindustan will continue
To penetrate the heart of London itself.
There will be sheer joy when we attain swaraj
And when the land and the sky of India will be ours
Annual fairs will be held at the cremation grounds of martyrs.
We can say that the influence of Ajit Singh on Bhagat Singh was the greatest because he did all such seditious adventurous activities at a time when raising even a finger against the British was considered as a passage to death. The influence of Swaran Singh, a nationalist, on Bhagat Singh could not be underestimated. He published anti British literature and organized agitation against the colonization Bill. He too was arrested on a charge of sedition and was tried and imprisoned. Ajith Singh was forced to flee to Persia because of pending cases against him while, Swaran Singh died when he was only 23 in 1910 at his home after releasing from Borstle Jail, Lahore. It is from the above discussions it is assumed that his family background occupied with many fearless patriots and freedom fighters might have converted Bhagat Singh a revolutionary terrorist.
The impact of Kartar Singh Sarabha’s heroism and sacrifice, one of the heroes of Ghadar movement, on Bhagat Singh can be clearly understood from the fact that when Bhagat Singh was arrested; a photograph of Kartar Singh Sarabh was recovered from him. It is learnt that he always carried Sarabha’s photo in his pocket, might be to derive motivation from it. Moreover, he used to show the photo to his mother and say that Sarabh is his hero, friend and companion and at home, he used to recite the couple, a favorite with Kartar Singh Sarabha.
Seva desh di jindariye bari aukhi
Gallan karnian dher sukhalian ne
Jinhan desh sevawich pair paya
Unhan lakh musibtan jhallian ne.
The translation in English is given below:
Serve one’s motherland in the real sense is extremely very tuff,
It is very easy to talk about it,
O! My little soul!
Those, who, wishes to take the task of patriotism
Had to undergo countless torments and agonies.
An important factor in his intellectual and political growth was his access of the Dwarka Dass Library, Lahore, from where, he had started acquiring Marxist literature in the mid-1920s. He was clearly groping for a comprehensive philosophy of human liberation. This led him to Marxism and the Ghadar revolutionaries of the Punjab. Bhagat Singh wrote regularly in their organ, Kirti (Punjabi), on subjects as varied as ‘Communalism and its Solution’, ‘Problem of Untouchability’, ‘Religion and Our Freedom Struggle’ etc. The trials, convictions and arrests of the Ghadrites left a deep imprint on the minds of young elements in northern India, especially on Punjabis. “It was their example of sacrifice which was followed by Bhagat Singh and his comrades through the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and the Hindustan Republican Association. Among the major influences on Bhagat Singh, the greatest was that of the Ghadar movement.”
The revolutionary terrorists were severely suppressed during the First World War and most of its leaders were put in jail or absconding. When non-cooperation movement was launched on the urging Gandhi, C.R. Das and other leaders and most of the revolutionary terrorists either joined the movement or suspended their own activities in order to give the Gandhian mass movement a golden chance. However, sudden suspension of the non-cooperation movement shattered the high hopes and inspiration and many youngsters and they questioned the very basic strategy of the national leadership and its emphasis on non-violence and demanded for alternatives. They were not happy with the ideas of the swarajists. They believed that only violent methods would bring freedom to India. Thus, revolutionary terrorism again became attractive and active under the activities of Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Surya Sen, Jatin Das, Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Shiv Varma, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and Jaidev Kapur. They enthusiastically participated in the non-cooperation movement. Thus, two separate strands of revolutionary terrorism developed one in Punjab, U.P. and Bihar and other in Bihar.
In April 1919, as a boy of 12, he visited the Jallianwala Bagh, where, the British police had massacred hundreds of unarmed Indians, and came back with blood soaked earth. In 1921, at the age of 14, he told his grandfather about the preparations being made by the railway men to go on strike. At age of 13, Singh began to follow Mahatma Gandhi‘s non-cooperation movement. At this point, he had openly defied the British and had followed Gandhi’s wishes by burning his government-school books and any British-imported clothing. Following Gandhi’s withdrawal of the movement after the violent murders of the police officers by villagers from Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, Singh, disgruntled with Gandhi’s nonviolence action, joined the Young Revolutionary Movement and began advocating a violent movement against the British. Already at 15, Bhagat Singh even debated with his father regarding Gandhi’s decision to withdraw the non-cooperation movement. The same year, on February 4, Mahant Narain Dass had killed more than 140 devout Sikhs in collaboration with the British at Gurudwara Nankana Sahib. When Akali workers protested this massacre, Bhagat Singh was at the forefront of welcoming the protestors in his village. Bhagat Singh joined National College Lahore at the age of 15. Around this time, he learned Punjabi language and the Gurumukhi script. This may seem strange today, given that he was born a Sikh. However, his grandfather, Arjun Singh, was a staunch Arya Samajist, who, emphasized learning Sanskrit. Therefore, young Bhagat Singh learnt Sanskrit, in addition to Urdu, English and Hindi. He proved to be good reader and writer in both Hindi and Punjabi. In 1923, Bhagat famously won an essay competition set by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. This grabbed the attention of members of the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, including its General Secretary Professor Bhim Sen Vidyalankar. At this age, he quoted famous Punjabi literature and discussed the Problems of the Punjab. He read a lot of poetry and literature, which was written by Punjabi writers and his favourite poet, was Allama Iqbal from Sialkot.
The frustrated young leaders, like Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chatterjea and Sachindranath Sanyal, whose, Bandi Jiwan served as a textbook to the revolutionary movement, met at Kanpur in October 1924 and founded the Hindustan Republican Association (or Army). It aimed to organize armed revolution to overthrow the colonial rule and establish in its place a Federal Republic of the United States of India, whose, basic principle would be adult franchise. Bhagat Singh came to Kanpur in 1923, after writing to his father that he would not marry, joined the paper as well as Hindustan Republican Association. Bhagat Singh started writing in the Pratap under the pen name Balwant. He worked during flood relief, and did duty as headmaster in a school. He wrote, in Hindi, an essay on the Language Problem in Punjab, and won a prize for this essay competition. In 1924-25, he wrote two essays in Matwala: one on ‘Loving the World’ (Vishwa Prem) and another on the youth (Yuvak). When six Babbar Akali revolutionaries were executed in 1926, his article, ‘Blood Drops on Holi Day’ (Holi ke Din Rakt ke Chhinte) was published with the byline, ‘A Punjabi Youth.’ In his celebrated essay, ‘Why I am an Atheist’, written in 1930, Bhagat Singh says that this was the time he was being radicalized, and the end of 1926, still short of 19, he was already an atheist.
Before armed struggle cold to be waged, propaganda had to be organized on a large scale, men had to be recruited and trained and arms had to be produced, Bhagat Singh thought. All these required money. The most important action of HRA was the Kakori Robbbery, on 9 August 1925, ten men held up the 8-Down train at Kakori, an obscure village near Lucknow, and looted its official railway cash. The Government reaction was quick and hard. It arrested a large number of young men and tried them in the Kakori Conspiracy Case.
In his teenage years, Bhagat Singh started studying at the National College in Lahore, but ran away from home to avoid early marriage, and became a member of the organization, Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Youth Society of India).Bhagat Singh was already something of a veteran in running organizations. He had been central to the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, formed in 1926 on the pattern of youth organizations in Italy, inspired by Mazzini and Garibaldi. In the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Singh and his fellow revolutionaries grew popular amongst the youth. He also joined the Hindustan Republican Association through introduction by his history teacher, Professor Vidyalankar, which had prominent leaders like Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrashekhar Azad and Ashfaqulla Khan. It is believed that he went to Kanpur with the aim of freeing Kakori train robbery prisoners from the jail, but returned to Lahore for unknown reasons. On the day of Dassera in October 1926, a bomb was blasted in Lahore, and Bhagat Singh was arrested for his alleged involvement in this Dassera Bomb Case in 29 May 1927, and was released on a bail of Rs.60, 000 after about five weeks of his arrest. He kept on writing for the edited Urdu and Punjabi newspapers published from Amritsar. In September 1928, a meeting of various revolutionaries from across India was called at Delhi under the banner of the Kirti Kissan Party. Bhagat Singh was the secretary of the meet. His later revolutionary activities were carried out as a leader of this association.
A number of factors contributed to the shaping of Bhagat Singh’s socio-political thought. First of all, his family environment, then, Gandhi’s decision to suddenly suspend the non-cooperation movement, disappointed many a youth of India. Most of the future revolutionaries, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Surya Sen, Jatin Das, Chandra Sehkar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Singh, Siv Verma, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Jasidev Kapur and a host of others had actively participated in the non-cooperation movement. Gandhi’s slogan ‘Swaraj in one year’ had inspired them with the spirit of nationalism. Their high hopes that Gandhi’s first all – India movement had risen, however, got temporarily frustrated.
The period of his revolutionary activities began from the time he left Lahore and went to Kanpur. Bhagat Singh got busy in building his contacts with other like-mined revolutionaries. At Kanpur he stayed with Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and came to know Batukeshwar Dutt We can say that both the strands developed under the influences of varied social forces. The main was the upsurge of working class trade unionism after the war. They identified revolutionary potential of the new class and wished to harness it to the nationalist revolution. The revolutionaries in northern India were the first to emerge out of the mood of frustration and reorganized under the leadership of the old veterans. A real breakthrough in terms of revolutionary struggle, goals, aims and objectives, targets, future plan, methodology and ideology of revolution etc. was inaugurated by Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Bhagat Singh himself declared once that the “the real revolutionary armies are in the villages and in factories.”
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Dr. Sheena Krishnan Ulamparambath
Department of History
P.G.Govt. College for Girls, Sector-11, Chandigarh
 Gupta D. N. & Chandra Bipan, 2007, Bhagat Singh Select Speeches & Writings, National Book Trust India, New Delhi, Introduction, p. ix.
 Bhupender Hooja, 2007, Bhagat Singh the Jail Notebook and Other Writings, Compiled with an Introduction by Chaman Lal, Left Word Books, New Delhi, p.13.
 Singh Deol Gurdev & Singh Karan, 1969, Shaheed Bhagat Singh: A Bibliography, Punjabi University, Patiala, p. 4.
 Home Department (Political), Government of India, Proceedings of August 1907, numbers 148-235, p. 3, as quoted in Deol Gurdev Singh & Singh Karan, 1969, Shaheed Bhagat Singh: A Bibliography, Punjabi University, Patiala, p. 7.
 Home Department (Political), Government of India, Proceedings of August, 1907, numbers 148-235, p. 40, Ibid., p. 8.
 Parm Bakhshish Singh and Devinder Kumar Verma, Ed., 1998, Punjab and the Freedom Struggle, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala, p. 179.
 Singh Deol Gurdev 1978, Shaheed- e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh: The Man and his Ideology, Deep Prakashan, Nabha, pp. 108-109.
 Bhupender Hooja, op. cit., p. 14.
 Singh Deol Gurdev 1978, , op. cit., p.108.
 Bipan Chandra, 1989, India’s Struggle for Independence 1857-1947, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, p. 247.
 Bhupender Hooja, op. cit., pp. 12-13.
 Bipan Chandra, 1989, op. cit., p. 248.
 Gupta. D.N & Chandra Bipan, Introduction, p. xii.
 Shiv Varma, Ed., 1986, Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Appendix I, New Delhi, p.130.